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Happening Now: WIPO Diplomatic Conference on Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge Opens

Geneva, May 13, 2024

WIPO member state delegates officially launched historic final-stage negotiations on a proposed treaty relating to intellectual property, genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, with Director General Daren Tang calling on negotiators to marry passion with pragmatism in advancing their work.

Some 1,200 delegates – including government Ministers - observers and other stakeholders from across the globe joined the “Diplomatic Conference,” which will cap decades-long negotiations among WIPO member states on the subject. WIPO currently administers 26 treaties, including the foundational documents of the global intellectual property (IP) system dating back to the late 19th century. The most-recent similarly high-level negotiation at WIPO occurred nearly a decade ago.

In a speech pdf welcoming the delegates to WIPO’s headquarters in Geneva, Mr. Tang underlined the historic nature of the negotiations and said: “Let me be candid – negotiations will not be easy. Negotiations dealing with significant and important topics rarely are. But I call on all of you to marry passion with pragmatism, and channel the same spirit of flexibility, accommodation and consensus that has brought us now to the cusp of a truly landmark agreement.”

Mr. Tang said a successful outcome would mean a better representation of the pivotal role genetic resources play in innovation, while underscoring how a strong IP system is a powerful catalyst for inclusive growth.

“At this Diplomatic Conference, we can show that there is no contradiction between a robust and predictable IP regime – one that incentivizes innovation, attracts investments and drives game-changing research – and one that responds to the needs of all countries and their communities everywhere, including those from Indigenous Peoples as well as from Local Communities. A more inclusive and diverse IP system is not just a more dynamic IP system, it is a stronger IP system,” said Mr.  Tang.

A successful result would also deliver a much-needed boost to multilateralism, said Mr. Tang, adding: “Over the next two weeks, our responsibility is therefore not just to WIPO and the IP community, but also to a world whose eyes are upon us.”

Member states reached a breakthrough consensus in July 2022 to move their negotiations to the next level, determining that a Diplomatic Conference should be held before the end of 2024 and that a "Basic Proposal" would serve as the basis for negotiations.

“Two years ago, we achieved a stunning breakthrough, built upon mutual understanding, trust and flexibility, with the desire for consensus,” said Mr. Tang: “We will need to call on that same spirit in order to cross the finishing line together. Let us once again make history together as one WIPO family, for the world.”

Member states elected H.E. Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Brazil to the World Trade Organization and other Economic Organizations in Geneva, as President of the Conference.

What are Genetic Resources and associated Traditional Knowledge?

Genetic resources are contained in, for example, medicinal plants, agricultural crops, and animal breeds. While genetic resources themselves cannot be directly protected as intellectual property, inventions developed using them can, most often through a patent.

Some genetic resources are also associated with traditional knowledge through their use and conservation by Indigenous Peoples as well as local communities, often over generations. This knowledge is sometimes used in scientific research and, as such, may contribute to the development of a protected invention.

What is a Diplomatic Conference?

A WIPO diplomatic conference is typically convoked by a decision of the WIPO General Assembly, which defines the objective of the conference and the general conditions for participation. Diplomatic conferences are governed by their own rules of procedure and customary international law. Accordingly, it is the conference itself that adopts the treaty and a final act.

The diplomatic conference in Geneva will be divided into two committees: Main Committee I and Main Committee II.

The first committee’s mandate is to negotiate and agree on all substantive intellectual property provisions and recommend them for adoption by the plenary. The second committee is charged with negotiating and agreeing on all administrative provisions and final clauses, such as who can join the future treaty and the conditions for its entry into force.

Three other committees are also formed: the Credentials Committee, which verifies credentials of delegations to participate in the conference and to sign the treaty; the Drafting Committee, which ensures the six language versions of the treaty, which are equally authentic, are properly aligned; and the Steering Committee, which includes the chief officers of all the committees and ensures the process is on track.

When all committees finalize their work, the treaty is sent to the conference plenary for adoption. It is then open for signature. Signing the treaty at the end of a diplomatic conference does not commit a country to being bound by its provisions. It is, however, a strong indication of intent by the signatory. The final act – a record that the conference took place – is also open for signature after adoption.

(Photo: WIPO/Berrod)

About WIPO

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is the United Nations agency that serves the world’s innovators and creators, ensuring that their ideas travel safely to the market and improve lives everywhere.

We do so by providing services that enable creators, innovators and entrepreneurs to protect and promote their intellectual property (IP) across borders and acting as a forum for addressing cutting-edge IP issues. Our IP data and information guide decisionmakers the world over. And our impact-driven projects and technical assistance ensure IP benefits everyone, everywhere.

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